Could Social Networks Overtake Property Portals?

The way we purchase property has been going through a massive shift, which has been transforming the market for years now. Buyers’ first port of call is no longer to browse estate agents’ windows or sift through property sections of newspapers, but instead to search online for property. Often, traditional property portals, such as Rightmove and Zoopla* are the starting point for house hunters. However, a number of these portals seem to have been missing a trick in more recent years, as they fail to fully integrate many of the latest PropTech innovations into their platforms.

As stated by our CEO Andrew Nicholls, in an article published in Estate Agent Today, Rightmove and Zoopla are “failing to emphasise 360-degree virtual tours(Norwood, 2017). According to Google, two out of three people want more 360 virtual tours, so why are the portals making it so difficult for the public to view them?

Virtual tours have proven to be much more than just a nice addition to a property listing. They save both the agent and the buyer time and money. They streamline the time spent searching for property, and research by Foxtons, prior to adopting virtual tours, points to the fact that a typical buyer will see 10 properties in person before choosing their home. With a 360-degree tour, this number can be reduced hugely, as virtual tours act as a first viewing, giving the viewer a comprehensive understanding of the space and thus qualifying their interest levels for the agent.

Though Rightmove and Zoopla do offer the addition of virtual tours on their website, they are, as stated by Andrew, “a sideline, difficult to implement, offered lacklusterly, and thus vastly underutilised.” Keeping this in mind, it really doesn’t seem to make practical sense for Rightmove and Zoopla to underemphasize virtual tours.

However, Rightmove for example, are effectively a simple database. The way they generate profit is by sending leads to estate agents and thus creating an audience on their platform. Therefore, features such as virtual tours are not particularly fulfilling for them, as they do not comprehend the added visits that these virtual tours will bring to their clients’ properties. The method which Rightmove employ to build their audience is a reactive process, rather than a proactive one.

Yet, with Facebook on the other hand, an estate agent can target an existing group of 1.37 billion daily active users (on average for September 2017) and share their properties this way. Evidently, this is a much larger audience than the likes of Rightmove and Zoopla.

For less than 5% of the cost of these property portals’ monthly fees, agents can promote and sell/rent their properties on social networks such as Facebook, garnering nearly 50 times (yes, 50 times!) the number of views than they would on an incumbent property portal.

Facebook has a series of very clever algorithms, which allows its users to specify who they want their posts to be aimed towards. For example, agents can explicitly target prospective clients who are likely to buy a new home in the next two years.

Technology writer, Will Oremus duly notes that once users could tell Facebook what they liked and disliked, the social media platform was then able to “use that as a strong signal of what you’re going to like in the future… That’s the beauty of Facebook from a business perspective, it’s like there’s a shadow purpose to everything you do as well, and every action that you take on Facebook doubles as a source of data” (BBC World Service, 2017). And there is no reason not to utilise this readily available database.

On a Facebook Business Page, one has the ability to boost their posts to audiences of 1000s. An agent can select their audience based on people who like their page, those who are interested in property listings or those who may know somebody who is. For example, they can choose people through selective targeting. This can be based on the location, age, gender and interests of the people they want to reach.

As well as boosting existing posts, agents can also create a Facebook marketing campaign from scratch, where they promote their content using Facebook’s Ad Creator or their Power Editor. Using the Power Editor for example, agents have the ability to create a precise audience for their campaign. Firstly, they can narrow down the location to their surrounding areas, or those they wish to focus on selling/letting to. Then, under ‘Detailed Targeting’ they are able to click on ‘Demographics’, select ‘Home’, and then ‘Home Ownership’. They can also select ‘Income’ and reach certain buyers this way, specifically narrowing down their search to those who they know match the desired criteria and therefore are presumably interested in their properties.

Even more impressively, Facebook allows users to target current homeowners who are actually likely to move. This can be found under the ‘Behaviours’ category, where Facebook understands certain common behaviours based on their enormous database of information. Estate Agents are able to benefit massively from this, but should be careful not to narrow the search down too much. It is important to test a few types of ads and audiences at first. Agents can try boosting posts and creating adverts, and once they have established which method works the best for them, they can then adjust accordingly based on the results.

EyeSpy360™’s virtual tours are a great place to start when it comes to marketing properties on social media. Virtual tours have proven to generate great interest with homebuyers, with Estate Agent research indicating that 75% of the interviewed potential buyers preferred interactive virtual tours over normal photographs and that these tours influenced their purchase decision.

One of our clients who has been using the likes of social media to promote their properties is Edward Mellor. The company has very cleverly began a campaign on their social media pages, called Where’s Nigel?. Not dissimilarly to Where’s Wally?, Nigel Stephens hides himself somewhere inside of the virtual tour, and then Edward Mellor’s clients have to try and locate him.

Nigel informs us that “the figures speak for themselves” and that a Where’s Nigel? tour is reaching between 1,800 to 3,200 views, compared to around 80 for one of their normal Facebook or Twitter posts. The former therefore procures up to forty times as many views as Edward Mellor’s standard posts.

Nigel tells us that he has subsequently been recognised when out and about, and that vendors have been asking him for more Where’s Nigel? tours. Crucially, he also pointed out that “new instructions have been gained as a result of the campaign”, and this attests to the fact that, not only will social media marketing boost views on posts, it will also lead directly to the sale or lease of a property.

“In a recent valuation, I walked into the house and the vendor said, “they found you then!” Although the campaign is about the long game and awareness, I can identify one house that was sold as a direct result of Where’s Nigel?... It’s a red and white stripy jumper next!

And Edward Mellor are not alone in their approach to selling properties. Stephen Pye from RE/MAX Impact in Scotland is an advocate for using Facebook to market his sales and lettings. He tells us that in his opinion, “Facebook represents a wonderful way to show [his] clients the properties they wish to see quickly and to gauge response quickly” too. He continues by informing us that when he has listed property on Facebook using EyeSpy360™, it has “received over 5000 views in a week”.

When clients then respond to the Facebook posts, Stephen and his colleagues can reply personally to each commenter’s “quirks in real time”. What’s more, he fundamentally notes that to boost a post on Facebook it “only costs about £20, as opposed to my portal costs, which run to thousands a month”.

Stephen finishes off by reinforcing the idea that social media really could overtake property portals by stating simply, “I would genuinely sell everything through Facebook if I could”.

As the demographic above indicates, Facebook as a marketing tool is succeeding in providing RE/MAX Impact with over 75% of their total virtual tour views this month.

More specifically, this percentage are viewing the tour on Facebook on a Smartphone. Rightmove and Zoopla’s phone applications don’t even display their properties’ virtual tours, when around 80% of their total traffic comes from a smartphone. They are indisputably missing something essential here.

We can no doubt concur that an agent is likely to get a better audience using social networks, than they would by paying Rightmove or Zoopla. The evidence has certainly been gathered to prove this, and consequently this method of selling is beginning to gain ground.

Now it’s time to see how long it takes for the way we sell property to alter indefinitely.

Thank you very much to Nigel Stephens and Stephen Pye for speaking to us about their respective approaches to marketing property.

We will be following up on this article with A Beginner’s Guide to Using Social Media to Market Property, so watch this space!

Reference List

Norwood, G. (2017). 'Come on Rightmove and Zoopla - what's stopping you?'. [online] Estate Agent Today. Available at: https://www.estateagenttoday.co.uk/breaking-news/2017/12/come-on-rightmove-and-zoopla--whats-stopping-you [Accessed 10 Jan. 2018].

BBC World Service (2017). How Powerful is Facebook's Algorithm?. [podcast] The Inquiry. Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/w3csvsyf [Accessed 10 Jan. 2018].